Tuesday, December 31, 2013

One Little Word for 2014

I didn't post much about last year's OLW (you can see the post here where I introduced it, and if you follow the links in that introduction, you can see the other OLWs I have chosen since 2009 and find more about the whole concept of choosing One Little Word), but in a way, everything this year was about shalom.  That word "flourishing," cited in the definition, kept coming up again and again in my life, in what I heard and read.  I saw examples of shalom, and felt its absence.  In the latter part of the year, our church began an in-depth study of the book of Genesis, and I learned a great deal about the literary aspects of the creation narrative, and how it compared to the creation narratives of surrounding Middle-Eastern cultures.  I began to think even more about shalom, and the picture of it in the garden, when all was as God had intended it to be.  Instead of separation and fear and suspicion, there was connection and rightness, shalom.  There was shalom between people and God, between people and nature, between the genders.  We seek that now, wishing and longing for the way things ought to be. 

The OLW I have chosen for 2014 is, then, continuing the theme from 2013.  But this year I was inspired by Irene Latham's choice for 2013.  Instead of picking an abstract concept, Irene, a true poet, chose the word "sky."  I loved watching her play with and enjoy her word all year long.

So this year, my OLW is garden.    I want to think about that original garden Paradise Lost, about the garden in myth and metaphor, and about flowers.  Quite honestly, I want to play, too, to take off my shoes and feel the grass between my toes. 

Here's to 2014!  I can't wait to see what's ahead!

Monday, December 30, 2013

Last Reading Update of 2013

Book #38 was Dr. Thorne, by Anthony Trollope.  I am loving these Victorian novels about clergymen.

Book #39 was the long-awaited Jesus Feminist, by Sarah Bessey.  I've been enjoying Sarah's blog for a long time, and I liked this book, too.  It isn't the last word, of course, on the subject, but I like her approach.  "People want black-and-white answers," she writes, "but Scripture is rainbow arch across a stormy sky.  Our sacred book is not an indexed answer book or life manual; it is also a grand story, mystery, invitation, truth and wisdom, and a passionate love letter.  I've abandoned the idea that my job is to get the absolute, 100 percent right answers on everything."

Books #40 and #43 were both by Hilary Mantel, Wolf Hall and Bring up the Bodies, both about Thomas Cromwell.  I am not sure what keeps drawing me back to the story of Henry VIII and his times, but somehow I can't look away from the fascinating, horrible tale.  Mantel does a fabulous job of showing Cromwell in all his complexity, but I do wish she would use quotation marks consistently and quit switching tenses.  Reading these was sort of a weird combination of breathless admiration of a brilliant writer and annoyance as I wanted to take my red pen to her prose.  Oh well, just call me pedantic, but also call me a Hilary Mantel fan.

Books #41 and #42 were both specifically Advent titles, Touching Wonder: Recapturing the Awe of Christmas, by John Blase, and Opening the Stable Door: An Advent Reader, by Dale and Jonalyn Fincher.  Both were quick, easy reads, and both helped me focus my scattered attention on Advent this year.

Book #43 was another quick read, but a helpful one from a writer I have loved for years, Philip Yancey.  This one, The Question that Never Goes Away, is his most recent response to the problem of evil, and it includes his visits to post-earthquake Japan; Newtown, Connecticut, and Sarajevo.  Highly recommended. 

Book #44 was another Trollope title, Framley Parsonage.  Only 43 Trollope novels to go!

Here are the other books I read this year:

Books #1 - #6.
Books #7 - #14.
Here's a link to my post about Bread and Wine, by Shauna Niequist, my eleventh book of the year.
Here's Book #15, Sacred Unions, Sacred Passions, by Dan Brennan.
Books #16 - #23.
Book #24, Middlemarch, by George Eliot. (Surely this one counts as several books, and can boost my total from 45 to closer to my unreached goal for this year, 52.)
Books #25 - #32.  (In this post I continued my annual tradition of getting the numbering wrong.)
Books #33 - #38.  (Yeah, the numbering in the post doesn't match.)

So I read 45 books this year.  This was a rewarding reading year, a satisfying mix of professional reading, reading about faith, and juicy novels, both YA and books written for people closer to my own age.  I didn't include all my re-reads, and I didn't include books of poetry.  I'm looking forward to another year of books in 2014!

Here's a link to some other people's reading lists for the year.

Poetry Friday on Monday

We just got back from a few days at the beach with very limited internet, so I missed Poetry Friday last week.  Here's the roundup.  I'll be back soon with links to the last few books I completed in 2013.

Friday, December 20, 2013

Poetry Friday: Difference

I was looking for a poem about peace, a poem appropriate for this day, the first morning waking up with no grading to do, with hours to fill as I wish.  I didn't exactly find it, but I did find this one, which I hadn't read before.  I love its portrayal of two minds, his and (I imagine) a woman's.  It makes me want to write a poem about my own mind, and sets me thinking about how I would do it.  And after all, what better thing to do with this first day of my Christmas break, my first day of peace after days of frantic work? 

by Stephen Vincent Benét

My mind’s a map. A mad sea-captain drew it   
Under a flowing moon until he knew it;
Winds with brass trumpets, puffy-cheeked as jugs,   
And states bright-patterned like Arabian rugs.   
“Here there be tygers.” “Here we buried Jim.”   
Here is the strait where eyeless fishes swim   
About their buried idol, drowned so cold   
He weeps away his eyes in salt and gold.   
A country like the dark side of the moon,   
A cider-apple country, harsh and boon,   
A country savage as a chestnut-rind,
A land of hungry sorcerers.
                                              Your mind?

—Your mind is water through an April night,
A cherry-branch, plume-feathery with its white,   
A lavender as fragrant as your words,   
A room where Peace and Honor talk like birds,   
Sewing bright coins upon the tragic cloth   
Of heavy Fate, and Mockery, like a moth,   
Flutters and beats about those lovely things.   
You are the soul, enchanted with its wings,   
The single voice that raises up the dead   
To shake the pride of angels.
                                                 I have said.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Poetry Friday

Today was the last day of classes, and I have giant piles of grading to do, so that they will be out of the way and I can focus on grading finals next week.  All that to say, no poems today, but you can go to the roundup here, at The Opposite of Indifference, to see what everyone else has posted. 

Friday, December 06, 2013

Poetry Friday: Sounds from this House

I am knee deep in grading, final exams to write, and assorted other end of the semester tasks.  But I'm popping in to link you to a poem I contributed to our school's online literary journal (first issue just out this week).  The poem is called "Sounds from this House."  I wrote down the idea a long time ago, because I had noticed that the sounds out of every window of our house are different.  I decided to catalog them.  I didn't intend for the poem to be about the earthquake, but somehow it got in there; at the time, everything I wrote was about the earthquake in one way or another. 

Sounds from this House, Delmas 83, Haiti

There is a different sound from each bedroom in this house.
Upstairs, you can hear the conversations next door,
Loud voices speaking Kreyol,
Cajoling, joking, insulting,
Sometimes shouts, and a few times, even a gunshot.
There are parties and vodou ceremonies,
Music and drumming through the night.
From the other window, church wafts in;
Singing, preaching, microphone-amplified.

You can read the rest here.

And Robyn Hood Black has today's roundup here.

Friday, November 29, 2013

Poetry Friday: Ode to the Onion

 Van Gogh, Still Life with a Plate of Onions

I always do odes with my eighth graders around Thanksgiving.  This one seems fitting, since several of the delicious dishes today contained onions.  I love Neruda's focus on ordinary things, and the way he sees the extraordinary in them.  Perfect for Thanksgiving, when we look at our blessings with more grateful eyes than we do on other days. 

Ode to the Onion
Pablo Neruda, tr. George Schade

luminous flask,
your beauty formed
petal by petal,
crystal scales expanded you
and in the secrecy of the dark earth
your belly grey round with dew.
Under the earth
the miracle
and when your clumsy
green stem appeared.
and your leaves were born
like swords
in the garden.
the earth heaped up her power
showing your naked transparency.
and as the remote sea
in lifting the breasts of Aphrodite
duplicated the magnolia.
So did the earth
make you,
clear as a planet,
and destined
to shine,
constant constellation
round case of water.
the table
of the poor.
you undo
your globe of freshness
in the fervent consummation
of the cooking pot
and the crystal shred
in the flaming heat of the oil
is transformed into a curled golden feather.

Then, too, I will recall how fertile
is your influence
on the love of the salad,
and it seems that the sky contributes
by giving you the shape of hailstones
to celebrate our chopped brightness
on the hemispheres of a tomato.
But within reach
of the hands if the common people,
sprinkled with oil.
with bit of salt,
you kill the hunger
of the day laborer on his hard path.

Star of the poor,
fairy godmother
in delicate
paper, you rise from the ground
eternal, whole, pure
like an astral seed.
and when the kitchen knife
cuts you, here arises
the only tear
without sorrow.

You make us cry without hurting us.
I have praised everything that exists,
but to me, onion, you are
more beautiful than a bird
of dazzling feathers,
you are to my eyes
a heavenly globe, a platinum goblet,
an unmoving dance
of the snowy anemone.

and the fragrance of the earth lives
in your crystalline nature.

Take a look at the post-Thanksgiving roundup here.  

Friday, November 22, 2013

Poetry Friday: Merry Autumn

I am planning to read this one with my seventh graders next week.  I thought they'd like it because we read a whole slew of mournful November poems, and this one is way more cheerful.  In fact, Dunbar mocks the idea that autumn is sad.  The poem starts:

Merry Autumn
Paul Laurence Dunbar

It's all a farce,—these tales they tell 

About the breezes sighing,

And moans astir o'er field and dell,

Because the year is dying. 

And it ends like this:

Don't talk to me of solemn days

In autumn's time of splendor, 

Because the sun shows fewer rays, 

And these grow slant and slender. 

Why, it's the climax of the year,— 

The highest time of living!— 

Till naturally its bursting cheer 

Just melts into thanksgiving.

 You can read the whole poem here.

I'm really looking forward to next week just melting into Thanksgiving.  Over at Write. Sketch. Repeat., Katya is hosting a Thanksgiving feast and Poetry Friday roundup.  Head on over to see what she is serving here!

Friday, November 15, 2013

Poetry Friday: Today I am a Small Blue Thing

Today I am a small blue thing
Like a marble or an eye
With my knees against my mouth
I am perfectly round
I am watching you

I am cold against your skin
You are perfectly reflected
I am lost inside your pocket
I am lost against your fingers
I am falling down the stairs
I am skipping on the sidewalk
I am thrown against the sky
I am raining down in pieces
I am scattering like light
Scattering like light
Scattering like light

Today I am a small blue thing
Made of China, made of glass
I am cool and smooth and curious, I never blink
I am turning in your hand
Turning in your hand

I am cold against your skin
You are perfectly reflected
I am lost inside your pocket
I am lost against your fingers
I am falling down the stairs
I am skipping on the sidewalk
I am thrown against the sky
I am raining down in pieces
I am scattering like light
Scattering like light
Scattering like light

Today I am a small blue thing
Like a marble or an eye
I am cool and smooth and curious, I never blink
I am turning in your hand
Turning in your hand
Turning in your hand
Small blue thing
Turning in your hand
Turning in your hand

Suzanne Vega

Here's today's roundup, hosted by Jama.   

Friday, November 08, 2013

Poetry Friday: Thinking About Thoreau

I have been writing a poem every day for the month of November, and maybe at some point I'll share more of what I've written (on Monday I posted this in honor of Pajama Day), but for today, I want to show you the best poem I read this week, by my friend Jessica Stock.  She blogs at One Wild and Precious Life about art, reading, motherhood, homeschooling, and faith.  I am always so excited when I see that she has posted something; it's always worth reading.  This week she was thinking about Thoreau as she recovered from her daughter's sixth birthday party.  Thanks, Jess, for letting me share your poem!

thinking about Thoreau at the end of the sixth birthday party

I cannot take Thoreau seriously since I learned his mother did his laundry
simplify simplify: a nice thought but somebody or your mom must wash your underwear
Thoreau lived deliberately and did not ever
so far as I am aware
separate the whites or
deal with his child's civil disobedience or
hear his name called up his spine
so persistently that he might consider ducking into the coat closet

Did you, Thoreau, ever plan a six year old's birthday party
or contemplate food allergies
test the recipe for chocolate cake with chocolate frosting
or advance confidently in the direction of the store for maraschino cherries- a five year old's only request?
Details Details

Did you, Thoreau, ever see your daughter so drunk on delight and red40
at the end of her sixth birthday party?

Now watch as I take this glass of wine to the bath
And read the Atlantic and scrub my poor feet with sugar

No one, not even Thoreau, had such delicious solitude
Not even Thoreau had such smooth feet

Jessica Stock

Today's roundup is hosted by Diane at Random Noodling.  Happy Poetry Friday!

Monday, November 04, 2013

Pajama Day

I teach the word "infer" to the seventh graders,
who are dressed in their pajamas.
"If you look around today," I explain,
"You can infer from what people are wearing
That it's Pajama Day."

You can infer from what I am wearing, too,
That it is Pajama Day. 
My purple plaid drawstring pants
My oversized school T-shirt from two sports seasons ago
My socks and running shoes.

Dressed in my pajamas,
I attempt to keep order
Among children in bathrobes
Children with stuffed animals
Children in slippers,
And perhaps most difficult of all,
Those who forgot to dress up.

Not to worry - it's only Monday.
Four more days of costumed mayhem left in Spirit Week.
You can infer from my martyred sigh
Exactly how I feel about that.

Sunday, November 03, 2013

November Project

I decided this year to take on a writing project a little different from the last couple of Novembers, when I have attempted to post on my blog each day of the month.  This year, I'm writing a poem each day.  At least, I'm trying.  I've done three poems so far, but the one for November 1st was already cheating a little, since it was one I had been working on for a couple of weeks.  And tomorrow makes the first day of November that I will go to work, since Friday was a holiday.  It's one thing to write on days off, and it's another to keep it up on work days. 

It remains to be seen whether I'll post some or any of my poems.  But this project is a reminder that I really need to write more.  Not so I can check it off my to-do list, but because I feel better when I do.  Writing helps me to arrange at least some of the stuff in my head.  Writing is a bit like exercising; I sometimes have to force myself to do both, but I can't deny the good effects both have on me when I follow through.  And for writing, that seems to be true whether or not I end up liking what I write. 

Friday, November 01, 2013

Poetry Friday: Catch a Body

I am having a hard time excerpting this poem; it's short, so follow the link and read the whole thing.  Ilse Bendorf takes exception to Holden Caulfield's advice: "Don't ever tell anybody anything."  She moves on to describing some things we should say, like

your mother looks radiant in violet
you should tell her, or when a juvenile
sparrow thrashes its wings in dustpiles
and reminds you of a lover’s eyelashes,
you should say so

but then she explains how we are boats, but also islands, but also pirates...

This is a wonderful poem, given to me by my daughter; please just go here and read the whole thing, OK?  And when you get done, go here, to Linda's home at Teacher Dance, and see what everyone else has for today.

As for me, I have the day off,  All Saints' Day, and although I have a stack of grading to do, I also plan to read some poetry today, and who knows?  Maybe I'll even write some.  Happy Poetry Friday!

Friday, October 25, 2013

Poetry Friday: Naomi Shihab Nye

It was Naomi Shihab Nye week with my 8th graders; every day we read one of her poems.  Here's part of one I didn't read with them.  It's from her book, Fuel, and it's written in the voice of students.

Morning Glory


We're fat with binders and forgetting
We're shaping the name of a new love
on the underside of our thumb.
We're diagnosing rumor and trouble
and fear.  We hear the teachers
as if they were far off, speaking
down a tube.  Sometimes a whole sentence gets through.

But the teachers don't give up.
They rise, dress, appear before us
crisp and hopeful.  They have a plan.


This is so appropriate for this week.  It reminds me, too, of this quote I wrote down while I was reading Time for Meaning: Crafting Literate Lives in Middle and High School, by Randy Bomer:

"Over and over again, I make the teacher's mistake of assuming that time begins the moment my students cross the threshold of my room.  But if my class is to tell the truth about literacy, I have to guard against that mistake and keep in mind that each student's whole life outside this room is what he or she will use to make meaning."

Oh well, we teachers don't give up.  I'll be at it again next week. 

And here's today's roundup, hosted by the amazing Irene Latham.  It's her thousandth blog post!  Head on over to congratulate her and read what everyone else is posting.

Friday, October 18, 2013

Poetry Friday: Sick Edition

In this short life that only lasts an hour
How much - how little - is within our power

Emily Dickinson

I'm sick in bed today with most unpoetic symptoms, so glad for the distraction of Poetry Friday.  Check out Janet's Mortimer Minute.  She said some nice things about me that cheered me up no end.  And the roundup is here, at Merely Day by Day

Thursday, October 17, 2013

Reading Update

Book #32 of this year was a teacher book, How's it Going?: A Practical Guide to Conferring with Student Writers, by Carl Anderson.  I don't have the book in front of me the way I like to when I post these reviews, because as soon as I was done with it I immediately passed it on, first to my co-teacher and then to the elementary administrator at our school, so that the elementary teachers could read it.  It was that good, that full of wonderfully helpful ideas for any age of students.  I picked up this book because I was very dissatisfied with the writing conferences I was doing with my students, and this book did not disappoint.  I recommend it for anyone who is teaching writing to kids.  Lucy Calkins did the foreword, and her quote underlies the whole text: "Teach the writer, not the writing."  Anderson tells you exactly how to do that.  As soon as I can get the book back, I want to read it again.

Book #33 was Barbara Kingsolver's latest, Flight Behavior.  I hadn't heard great things about this book, so I hadn't been in a hurry to read it, but this summer I heard someone whose judgement I respect talking about how good it was.  What was I thinking?  I would read Barbara Kingsolver's grocery lists.  (In fact, I guess I almost have, since I did read her book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, which was about what she and her family ate for a year.)  This book is fabulously written, and although the topic, climate change and the way it is destroying the planet, is hardly uplifting, Dellarobia and her friends and family are so well portrayed, and the story so beautifully drawn, that I couldn't stop reading until I was done.  The flight of the title refers mostly to butterflies, and specifically the Monarch butterflies, which this year have migrated to Tennessee instead of Mexico.  When Dellarobia first sees them, she isn't wearing her glasses, and thinks the mountainside is on fire.  Soon enough, the presence of the butterflies changes everything for Dellarobia, her family, and her depressed community, where going to college is practically unheard of, and climate change is dismissed as a ridiculous liberal story. The book explores Dellarobia's relationships, globalization, and scientific research and how the news media simplify and misrepresent it, but the narrative never flags. 

Book #34 was recommended by one of my seventh graders.  I loved Wonder, by R.J. Palacio, the story of ten-year-old August Pullman, who was born with a cranio-facial deformity and who is just about to start school for the first time after being homeschooled. One of my eighth graders was doing a book recommendation a couple of weeks ago, and she warned us that the book was sad and "You can cry." That's my warning for Wonder, too. You can cry; I did, a lot.  But this is a beautiful story, and ultimately a happy one.

Book #35 was recommended by my daughter; it was the sequel to a book she suggested over the summer, The Year of Secret Assignments.  This one, The Murder of Bindy Mackenzie, by Jaclyn Moriarty, was similar.  It consisted mostly of Bindy's notes, musings, and correspondence, but Bindy really came alive (haha, see what I did there?), and in spite of the somewhat improbable ending, I enjoyed reading this.

Book #36 was Brian McLaren's Naked Spirituality: A Life with God in 12 Simple Words.  I wanted to read this because I was listening to a series of podcasts from a church that is basing a year's worth of sermons on this book.  This was my first book by McLaren, and I found it well-written, thought-provoking, readable.  I appreciated the way he made abstract spiritual concepts approachable and put words to ideas that are difficult to express.  However, there were several points at which I felt that the book wasn't intended to be exclusively about Christianity.  It almost felt as if McLaren was out to annoy his evangelical readers by a paean to Buddhism, an exhortation to gather for worship, "whether it's in a glorious cathedral or temple, a spacious megachurch facility, or a small local chapel, synagogue or mosque," and a friendly aside: "Now here I am being transparently trinitarian, and some may not be able to go here with me."  That said, McLaren uses scripture (yes, the Bible) extensively all the way through, and his writing is clearly informed by his own experience with God.  I enjoyed this book and found it gave me helpful ways to think about faith.  You can find more about the book, and the twelve words, here.

Book #37 only came out two days ago, and my daughter and I have both already read it.  It's Addie Zierman's book When We Were On Fire: A Memoir of Consuming Faith, Tangled Love, and Starting Over.  I have been reading Addie's blog for a while.  I started back when it was called "How to Speak Evangelical," and loved reading her beautifully written meditations on the cliches of the evangelical Christian world.  The book was no disappointment, but I didn't feel that we had parallel lives as much as I thought I might.  Many of the "growing up evangelical" details are similar, though I'm older than she is and grew up in another country, but the story, like all of our stories, was very much her own.  I wanted to hear more about her time in China with her husband; it seemed to me that coming back from that very difficult and life-changing experience must have had something to do with the development of her depression, and I would love it if she would explore that idea as deeply as she has mined some of her other experiences.   Although Addie's adult life is very different from mine, her writing started me thinking about many of the particulars of my own faith journey.  Here's a quote that will give you an idea of how fun her prose is to read: 
"These days, faith is a lot like Wisconsin: a series of repetitive ups and downs, the natural rise and fall of the road that stretches before you.  Boring.  Beautiful.  Ridiculous sometimes, as when the road eases into the Wisconsin Dells and there are suddenly giant plastic animals and water slides and a huge haunted mansion tilted along the road."

Addie's writing has encouraged many others to reflect on their journey, too, and you can read some of those reflections at the synchroblog she is hosting here.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Next Time, on the Mortimer Minute

In spite of my last minute request, my tag-ee for the Mortimer Minute has graciously agreed to post next week.  Janet, who blogs at Across the Page, and who also has a gorgeous nature blog called Discovering Nature, is a friend from college.  After spending several quite intense years of our lives seeing each other all the time, we moved to different corners of the planet, and haven't seen each other in - wow, it's a long time, when you stop to count.

In spite of not seeing Janet in the flesh since we were both much younger, I have enjoyed keeping up with her on her blogs.  She is as thoughtful and deep-thinking as ever, and now her own homeschooled children are reaping the benefits, instead of the college literature classes she use to take and teach. 

In addition to being a wonderful writer, thinker, and poet, Janet is also a rabbit-owner, and who knows?  Maybe Mortimer will make a friend at Janet's house.

Stay tuned for Janet's Mortimer Minute on Friday!

Friday, October 11, 2013

Poetry Friday: Mortimer Minute

I was tagged last Friday by Liz Steinglass.  Here are the guidelines for the Mortimer Minute:

1) Pose and answer three questions you’ve always wanted to be asked in an interview about children’s poetry. (Ideally, use one question posted by the person who invited you to the Hop.)
2) Invite one, two, or three other bloggers to go after you.
3) In your post list the names of the bloggers you invited and give the dates when they’ll be posting.

I don't know that I've always wanted to be asked anything at all in an interview about children's poetry, but using one of Liz's questions and two of my own, here goes...

How did you come to love poetry?

We always had poems in our home.  I remember my mother quoting, "How do you like to go up in a swing, up in the sky so blue?  Oh, I do think it's the loveliest thing ever a child can do," from A Child's Garden of Verses, by Robert Louis Stevenson.  I remember my dad reading "The Bells," by Edgar Allan Poe, to me, and I was thrilled by the repetition and the wild way the sound of the bells builds through that poem.  (Incidentally, my students are less thrilled by this poem - I have tried it a few times, with no success whatsoever.)  In school we had to choose poems to memorize, and there was a big competition every year.  I remember learning "Disobedience," by A. A. Milne, and I can still recite it these many years later.  We had a teacher in high school who used to spend one period a week on poetry, and I always loved those purple dittos (I saved them for years - I wonder where they are now?).  Favorites were "The Great Lover," by Rupert Brooke and  "The Rolling English Road," by G.K. Chesterton.

In college, my love of poetry directly led to finding other love.  In an American Literature class, the professor asked me to read an Emily Dickinson poem aloud.   My husband says that when he heard my voice (which in those days had a trace of an English accent from my years in British boarding schools, apparently rendering me quite irresistible), he knew he wanted to get to know me.  He cleverly orchestrated a meeting by pretending he needed to borrow my notes, and now we've been married 24 years, and have regular poetry nights with our children.

How about writing poetry?  When did you start that?

I have always written poetry of various kinds.  I liked playing with rhymes, and as an adolescent I wrote many angst-ridden, emotion-filled poems.   For years I was inhibited by my studies of literature, and downplayed my own work, using words like "doggerel" and "little ditties."  It's only in the last few years that I've admitted aloud, "Yes, I write poetry."  After the Haiti earthquake, I seemed to get a little bolder, and I started sharing some of my own writing here on this blog.  For the last two years, I've participated in readings at the school where I work.  In my job teaching middle school English, I encourage kids to get involved in poetry, both reading it and writing it.  Many of them do!

If you could have any "superpower," what would it be?

After the week I've had, I'd have to say that I wish I had some extra teaching superpowers, like Seventh Grade Wrangling or Super-Speed Grading.  Both of those tasks (for which I am not equipped with superpowers) have occupied my week, which is why I waited until the last minute to ask my tag-ee if she would accept the Mortimer Minute next.  I'll write a post later in the week revealing my tag.

Meanwhile, check out the roundup, which is hosted here today.

Friday, October 04, 2013

Poetry Friday: Kofi Awoonor

One of the people who died in Nairobi in the attack on the Westgate mall was Ghanaian poet Kofi Awoonor.  The New Yorker published this tribute

One of Awoonor's best-known poems is, appropriately, called "Songs of Sorrow."  Here is part of it:

"Returning is not possible
And going forward is a great difficulty
The affairs of this world are like the chameleon faeces
Into which I have stepped..."

Going forward is a great difficulty in a world where such things can happen, and chameleon faeces seems a pretty accurate comparison, some days.

You can read the rest of the poem here

Friday, September 27, 2013

Poetry Friday: The Beach and Violence

I was looking for a poem about the beach, because we're going on our staff retreat this weekend at the beach.  But at the same time I was feeling despondent about what I've been reading since last Saturday about the carnage in Kenya, the violence interrupting a beautiful Saturday morning, the shoppers gunned down, and who knows why.  Kenya is the place where I first knew beaches, when we drove or took the train to Mombasa, spoiling me forever with the wide, white, expanses of sand and the warm Indian Ocean.  Kenya is the place where I first knew many things.  It was a beautiful, wonderful place to grow up, and I will always love it.  And it hurts to watch the suffering there right now.

This poem by Rabindranath Tagore perfectly captures the combination of the beauty and the pain, the children heedlessly playing on the beach, unaware of the potential of even those waves to bring death.  I'm thinking of the child in Westgate Mall who said to the killer with a huge gun, "You are a bad man."  And in response the murderer gave the child a chocolate bar and let him go.

"Death is abroad and children play."  As the Book of Common Prayer says, "In the middle of life, we are in death."

After the Tagore poem, I'm including the Kenyan national anthem, which is the least bellicose national anthem I've ever heard.  It's really a prayer.  You can read the words below the video.

On the Seashore
By Rabindranath Tagore

On the seashore of endless worlds children meet.
The infinite sky is motionless overhead and the restless water is boisterous.  On the seashore of endless worlds the children meet with shouts and dances. 
They build their houses with sand, and they play with empty shells. With withered leaves they weave their boats and smilingly float them on the vast deep. Children have their play on the seashore of worlds.
They know not how to swim, they know not how to cast nets. Pearl-fishers dive for pearls, merchants sail in their ships, while children gather pebbles and scatter them again. They seek not for hidden treasures, they know not how to cast nets.
The sea surges up with laughter, and pale gleams the smile of the sea-beach. Death-dealing waves sing meaningless ballads to the children, even like a mother while rocking her baby's cradle. The sea plays with children, and pale gleams the smile of the sea-beach.
On the seashore of endless worlds children meet. Tempest roams in the pathless sky, ships are wrecked in the trackless water, death is abroad and children play. On the seashore of endless worlds is the great meeting of children.

O God of all creation
Bless this our land and nation
Justice be our shield and defender
May we dwell in unity
Peace and liberty
Plenty be found within our borders.

Let one and all arise
With hearts both strong and true
Service be our earnest endeavour
And our homeland of Kenya
Heritage of splendour
Firm may we stand to defend.

Let all with one accord
In common bond united
Build this our nation together
And the glory of Kenya
The fruit of our labour
Fill every heart with thanksgiving.

Amy has today's roundup here, at the Poem Farm.

Friday, September 20, 2013

Poetry Friday: Monet

I found this poem a couple of weeks ago by following a link from The Opposite of Indifference.  In "Monet Refuses the Operation," by Lisel Mueller, Monet is telling his doctor that he doesn't want his vision to be "corrected," because he likes the way he sees the world.

I will not return to a universe
of objects that don’t know each other,
as if islands were not the lost children
of one great continent.  The world
is flux, and light becomes what it touches,
becomes water, lilies on water,
above and below water,
becomes lilac and mauve and yellow
and white and cerulean lamps,
small fists passing sunlight
so quickly to one another
that it would take long, streaming hair
inside my brush to catch it.

I love the idea that Monet has taken his whole life to "arrive at the vision of gas lamps as angels," and to discover that "Rouen cathedral is built of parallel shafts of sun."  I wonder what aspects of aging I could see as benefits, if I just squinted my eyes the right way.

When I wrote this post, I didn't know who was hosting the roundup today.  What a coincidence!  It's Tabatha at The Opposite of Indifference.  Go here to read what great poems everyone has today.

Friday, September 13, 2013

Poetry Friday

I had Parent/Teacher conferences today and was frantically rushing to get my grades up to date beforehand - so for today I just have a link to what everyone else posted.  Happy Poetry Friday!

What Everyone Else Posted

Friday, September 06, 2013

Poetry Friday: Seamus Heaney

I'm sure there will be a lot of Seamus Heaney posts today, since he died last week.  Someone posted this one on Facebook.  I wasn't familiar with it, but it's perfect for the occasion, speaking as it does of impermanence and seizing the moment.

Blackberry Picking
Seamus Heaney

Late August, given heavy rain and sun

for a full week, the blackberries would ripen.

At first, just one, a glossy purple clot

among others, red, green, hard as a knot.

You ate that first one and its flesh was sweet

like thickened wine: summer's blood was in it

leaving stains upon the tongue and lust for

picking. Then red ones inked up and that hunger

sent us out with milk-cans, pea-tins, jam-pots

where briars scratched and wet grass bleached our boots.

Round hayfields, cornfields and potato-drills

we trekked and picked until the cans were full,

until the tinkling bottom had been covered

with green ones, and on top big dark blobs burned

like a plate of eyes.

You can read the rest, and hear it read aloud, here

Bonus: this great story by a writer who tried - and failed - to get an interview with Heaney, but got a poem instead.

Today's roundup is hosted by Author Amok

Friday, August 30, 2013

Poetry Friday: Linda Pastan

I had a dream last night that I had been kidnapped.  I had managed to escape from the kidnapper, but he was still in the house, and I didn't want him to hear me.  I was sneaking around and being as quiet as I could, but guess who else was there?  In the inexplicable way of dreams, all of my middle school students.  And they wouldn't be quiet.  I was shushing them and explaining in a tearful whisper that our lives were in danger if they wouldn't stop talking.  They were behaving just like they do at the beginning of silent reading every day, except without that glorious moment when everyone finally relaxes into a book and there's that beautiful reading zone hush.  I woke up in a cold sweat.

So that dream pretty much shows you where my mind is these days.  I always forget what a job it is to break in a new batch of seventh graders, and we have changes this year in schedule, resulting in different pacing; it's a better fit, but it just takes time to get used to.  I feel swamped in grading, as though I never get out from under it.  I have no time or mental energy to think a thought.

Someone shared this poem on Poetry Friday a couple of weeks ago, and I've had it open on my desktop ever since.  This is where my writing is now; it's not happening.  In spite of all the other things going on in my brain, I need to, like Linda Pastan, "decide not to stop trying."

Here's her poem:

Rereading Frost

Linda Pastan

Sometimes I think all the best poems
have been written already,
and no one has time to read them,
so why try to write more?

At other times though,
I remember how one flower
in a meadow already full of flowers
somehow adds to the general fireworks effect

as you get to the top of a hill
in Colorado, say, in high summer
and just look down at all that brimming color.

Here's the rest of the poem, including where she decides not to stop trying.

And here's today's Poetry Friday roundup.

Friday, August 23, 2013

Poetry Friday: In an Artist's Studio

I read this poem with my eighth graders every year and we speculate on the story behind it.  I love it because there is just the right level of mystery.  The kids always say, "Obsession!" when they get the picture of the studio filled with countless paintings of the same woman.  Yet it's an obsession with the artist's idea of the model, "not as she is, but as she fills his dream."

I found this wonderful analysis of the poem.

In an Artist's Studio

One face looks out from all his canvases,
One selfsame figure sits or walks or leans:
We found her hidden just behind those screens,
That mirror gave back all her loveliness.
A queen in opal or in ruby dress,
A nameless girl in freshest summer-greens,
A saint, an angel—every canvas means
The same one meaning, neither more nor less.
He feeds upon her face by day and night,
And she with true kind eyes looks back on him,
Fair as the moon and joyful as the light:
Not wan with waiting, not with sorrow dim;
Not as she is, but was when hope shone bright;
Not as she is, but as she fills his dream.

Christina Rossetti

The Poetry Friday roundup is here today.

Friday, August 16, 2013

Poetry Friday: Aimee Nezhukumatathil

I don't know anything about Aimee Nezhukumatathil except what I read on Poetry Foundation, but I like reading her poems.  My favorite is this one, which plays cleverly with the way writers use reality:

Are All the Break-Ups in Your Poems Real?

By Aimee Nezhukumatathil
If by real you mean as real as a shark tooth stuck
in your heel, the wetness of a finished lollipop stick,
the surprise of a thumbtack in your purse—
then Yes, every last page is true, every nuance,
bit, and bite. Wait. I have made them up—all of them—
and when I say I am married, it means I married
all of them, a whole neighborhood of past loves.

You can read the last seven lines of the sonnet here.

Another fun poem by Nezhukumatathil is her found poem made up of lines from emails she got from high school students, hence the title:

Dear Amy Nehzooukammyatootill,

By Aimee Nezhukumatathil
(a found poem, composed entirely of e-mails from various high school students)

You can read that one here. 

It's great to be back to Poetry Friday after about five weeks of hiatus.  Today's roundup is here.  Enjoy lots of wonderful poems!

Thursday, August 15, 2013

Summer Reading

Although we started school on Monday, I already have a day off, since August 15th is the Feast of the Assumption.  I wanted to blog about my summer reading before school started, but this is the closest I can come to achieving that goal.

Book #24 of 2013 was Tooth and Claw, by Jo Walton.  This book is a typical Victorian novel, except that all the main characters are dragons.  Picture a very correct, rules-bound society of enormous savage dragons.  It took me a little while to get into the proper frame of mind to enjoy this book, recommended by my fantasy-loving daughter, but once I did, I was captivated.  It has been a while since I've read anything this fun and satisfying. 

I chose book #25 because it occurred to me that I have read several books compared to Anthony Trollope - Tooth and Claw, for one, and Susan Howatch's Church of England series, and books by Joanna Trollope, who is a distant relative of Anthony's - but never read anything by the man himself.  I decided to remedy that.  I found a free Kindle version of The Warden to begin with, and when I liked that, I was able to find this collection of his complete works, 47 novels for $2.99.  That should keep me going for a while!

Book #26, Ruby Slippers: How the Soul of a Woman Brings Her Home, by Jonalyn Grace Fincher, was one I had been wanting to read for a while, since I enjoy Fincher's blog, also called Ruby Slippers.  She fearlessly takes on topics that other Christian bloggers might avoid, and her ideas have given me much to think about.  I found much to enjoy in the book, too, but ultimately I wasn't entirely satisfied with her explanation of what constitutes a "female soul."  I would like some friends to read this one, too, so we can talk about it.  Any takers?

I wish I had had more information about book #27 before reading it.  Specifically, I wish I had realized that Never Fall Down was a lightly fictionalized account of the experiences of a real person.  Patricia McCormick interviewed Arn Chron-Pond in English about his experiences as a child soldier with the Khmer Rouge, and she tells us in an Author's Note at the end of the book: "Trying to capture that voice was like trying to bottle a lightning bug.  Every time I imposed the rules of grammar or syntax on it, the light went out.  And so, in telling Arn's story I chose to use his own distinct and beautiful voice."  I wish I had known this because it would have kept me from being irritated all the way through the book by the unexplained pidgin-English quality of the writing.  Why, I reasoned, would the main character be speaking English at all?  In his own language he would be fluent and there would be no need for sentences like, "A lot of time kid throw stone at me."  Even in spite of not knowing the reason for the way the book was written, I did get drawn in by the horrifying story.

Book #28 was another Trollope title, Barchester Towers, and these absorbing stories about Victorian clergy and their families will be sprinkled in among the other books I read for some time to come.  Forty-five more titles to go!

Book #29 was another recommendation from my daughter.  The Year of Secret Assignments, by Jaclyn Moriarty, was a fun Australian novel about students at two rival schools required to write letters to one another.  I wouldn't give this to my middle schoolers; it's really for older kids.

Book #30 was Lucky: How the Kingdom Comes to Unlikely People, by Glenn Packiam.  This unpacking of the Beatitudes replaces the more traditional word "blessed" with "lucky," explaining that in the original language, the word used by Jesus isn't a particularly "religious" one.  This is a refreshing and enjoyable take on a familiar passage, and I think a small group would get a lot out of discussing it together. 

Book #31 was Bitterblue, by Kristin Cashore.  This is a companion book to Cashore's books Graceling and Fire, and characters from both books show up.  There was less of the mind-reading that so fascinated me in the other two books (though there is some), but this book is about a society healing after a time under the brutal regime of King Leck, Bitterblue's father.  Leck's abuses are described in some detail; ultimately I didn't find it too much, but I would understand if some did.  But I found this a very thought-provoking study of what a society would need to do to recover from a rule like this.  How have real-life countries done this?  Very differently.  Look at South Africa's amazing recovery from apartheid, due to the forgiveness modeled by Nelson Mandela, and bringing people's stories into the open during the Truth and Reconciliation process.  Compare that with the suppression in Japan of the atrocities committed during World War II, to the point that some of them are only now, sixty years later, starting to be talked about. 

Incidentally, I enjoyed this video by Christian author and literature teacher Karen Swallow Prior about the benefits of what John Milton called "promiscuous reading," meaning reading a variety of different material without much of a plan: "haphazard, mixed reading," Prior calls it.  Clearly I am a practitioner of this type of reading!

Friday, August 09, 2013

Another Poem-less Poetry Friday!

Today was our first day of school; the high school students came to register, get lockers, and other administrative details.  I spent the afternoon planning for next week, when I'll start teaching.  I had to put poetry at the bottom of my to-do list, but I really hope this is the last time!  Meanwhile, there are many great poems here, at today's Poetry Friday roundup.

Friday, August 02, 2013

Home Again - Poetry Friday!

After five weeks of traveling, I'm home, but still not quite up to jumping back into Poetry Friday.  Next week...

Meanwhile here's today's roundup!

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Guest Post at Djibouti Jones

I've been watching the TCK series over at Djibouti Jones with interest.  She's featured many voices, and today she has mine.  Head on over to read my piece about Dave Pollock, a man who has been so important in my life and the lives of many other TCKs and their parents: Tribute to a Pioneer

Saturday, July 27, 2013

Poetry Saturday - Again!

Traveling again yesterday, and next Friday too.  So once again, here's the link to what everyone else posted yesterday!  I'm looking forward to getting back to my Poetry Friday routine!

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Poetry Saturday

I'm falling down on the blogging job, and didn't even manage a post yesterday.  But my Poetry Friday cohorts did not let you down.  Check out the roundup!

Friday, July 12, 2013

Poetry Friday

I've been away from my computer all week, and just got back to it.  But lots of other people posted poems today, so go check out the roundup here!

Friday, July 05, 2013

Poetry Friday: Good Night

Good Night

    Many ways to say good night.
    Fireworks at a pier on the Fourth of July
    spell it with red wheels and yellow spokes.
    They fizz in the air, touch the water and quit.
    Rockets make a trajectory of gold-and-blue
    and then go out.
    Railroad trains at night spell with a smokestack mushrooming a white pillar.
    Steamboats turn a curve in the Mississippi crying a baritone that crosses lowland cottonfields to razorback hill.
    It is easy to spell good night.
                            Many ways to spell good night. 
    Carl Sandburg
This poem was featured this week on YourDailyPoem.com.  It seemed appropriate for these relaxed, lazy summer days and nights here in the US.  It is wonderful to have a slower pace, no early morning meetings, and time with family and friends.  Even though our Fourth of July plans were rained out, I love this atmospheric, quintessentially American poem.  Hope you're enjoying your summer!  

Here's today's Poetry Friday roundup. 

Friday, June 28, 2013

Poetry Friday: Charles Simic

In the Library
by Charles Simic   

for Octavio

There's a book called
"A Dictionary of Angels."
No one has opened it in fifty years,
I know, because when I did,
The covers creaked, the pages
Crumbled. There I discovered

The angels were once as plentiful
As species of flies.
The sky at dusk
Used to be thick with them.
You had to wave both arms
Just to keep them away.

You can read the rest of the poem here.

And here you can read Charles Simic's essay on why he still writes poetry.  It begins like this: 

When my mother was very old and in a nursing home, she surprised me one day toward the end of her life by asking me if I still wrote poetry. When I blurted out that I still do, she stared at me with incomprehension. I had to repeat what I said, till she sighed and shook her head, probably thinking to herself this son of mine has always been a little nuts. Now that I’m in my seventies, I’m asked that question now and then by people who don’t know me well. Many of them, I suspect, hope to hear me say that I’ve come my senses and given up that foolish passion of my youth and are visibly surprised to hear me confess that I haven’t yet. They seem to think there is something downright unwholesome and even shocking about it, as if I were dating a high school girl, at my age, and going with her roller-skating that night.

Amy has today's roundup here.

Monday, June 24, 2013

IRA Convention Highlights Post #9: Poetry and TRTW

I wrote here about the poetry session I attended on Monday. It was probably my favorite session of the whole conference, and it was a lot of fun to meet people I'd "known" for years on Poetry Friday. Amy VanDerwater posted a photo here.

The very last session was an excellent one on a teaching technique called TRTW: Talk, Read, Talk, Write.   You can see the handout here.

It took me almost two months after coming back from San Antonio to write these highlights posts, but I'm glad I did them, because going through my notes helped me remember the sessions.  The San Antonio conference was a lot of fun; I enjoyed getting to visit this beautiful city and the opportunity to learn about new books and how to introduce them to kids.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

IRA Convention Highlights Post #8: Mayor Castro of San Antonio, but Mostly Mo Willems

In the opening session on the last day of the IRA Convention, we heard two great speakers.  The first was the Mayor of San Antonio, Julián Castro.  I wouldn't be at all surprised if we hear more nationally from this talented young politician.  

The second speaker was Mo Willems, and I kind of feel as though I shouldn't tell you what he said.  That's because he started his talk by asking people not to take pictures or record him.  "We don't need to record it; we need to experience it.  If someone asks you what it was like, say, 'You missed it.'"  Consequently, Willems did a "photo shoot" where he pranced about on the stage and encouraged people to take pictures.  After that, he commanded everyone to put away their devices, and promised to "shame" anyone who didn't comply.  At intervals during his presentation, he would point fiercely at someone who was filming him or taking his picture and intone, "You are shamed!"  

So if you want to know what Mo Willems said to us, sorry, you missed it.  It was really great, though.  

OK, I'll tell you a few things he said.  He taught us how to draw the pigeon!  He said that life is pretty unpleasant for little kids, living in a world where all the furniture is made for someone bigger, and they have to get permission to go to the bathroom and get in trouble when they talk to people.  He said that the problem with Go, Dog. Go is that the poodle doesn't have any emotional life.  Willems has tried to avoid that problem in his own books, because, "Children have real emotional lives.  They're just newer than us."  He added a truth any parent can agree with: "Books are not meant to be read; books are meant to be read a billionty times."  Willems' books are read a billionty times by kids who love them, and teachers love him too; you should have seen the huge lines of teachers waiting to get their copies of his books autographed. 

Here's a little taste of Mo:


Friday, June 21, 2013

Poetry Friday: The Visitor

I just listened to this Poetry Magazine podcast, from November 2012, and heard a wonderful poem by Idra Novey called "The Visitor."  Novey lives in New York City, and apparently has many house guests.  She wrote a series of poems about the different visitors who stayed on her futon.  This one is special, though: this visitor has come to stay.  This visitor is her own child.

The Visitor
Idra Novey

Does no dishes, dribbles sauce
across the floor. Is more dragon
than spaniel, more flammable
than fluid. Is the loosening
in the knit of me, the mixed-fruit
marmalade in the kitchen of me.
Wakes my disco and inner hibiscus,
the Hector in the ever-mess of my Troy.

You can read the last four lines, and listen to Novey read the whole thing, here.  

This week I had to take my own Hector to the dentist several times, and had various other parenthood-related trials which I do not have my children's permission to reveal here. But in spite of all the work and effort and noise of kids, they really do "bring the joy."

Today's Poetry Friday roundup is here.

Thursday, June 20, 2013

IRA Convention Highlights Post #7: Dystopia and Adoption Literature

As I've commented several times, my favorite sessions at the IRA Convention are the author panels. In the dystopia panel I attended on Sunday, I hadn't read any of the authors, but I still enjoyed the conversation. The three authors were Marie Lu, D.J. MacHale and Susan Beth Pfeffer.

The last session I attended on Sunday was an overview of YA books about adoption.  Here's the description:
In this interactive session, presenters will share insights gained from analysis of 41 contemporary fiction YA books. For teachers seeking to make a difference with rich content for adolescent readers, adoption literature raises significant questions about what family structures and contexts are valued, who has power and choice in relationships, and how adolescents are positioned and viewed. Themes emerging from the analysis have relevance beyond the adoption topic, as individual books and recurring themes reveal related, often unexamined, assumptions about race, gender roles, class and privilege, sex and sexuality, religion, and the role of social context in personal development.
The presenter, Dr. Sue Christian Parsons, from Oklahoma State University, did an excellent job of discussing the themes in these books, and the way each member of the adoption triad - child, birth parents, adoptive parents - is presented. It looks as though the handout, and list of novels, isn't included on the IRA site. I had only read two of the books, Three Black Swans, by Caroline Cooney, and Carpe Diem, by Autumn Cornwell. (I enjoyed the first, reviewed here, less than I have other Cooney books, and thought the second was excellent.  I reviewed it here.)   In both cases, I had rather uncritically accepted the stereotypical portrayals of the members of the triad, just as the presenter said that readers often do. Parsons called for YA novels that contain more nuanced portrayals of adoptions. When it comes to adoption (and many other topics), I recognize that I very much need education from those who know a lot more than I do. I remember, when I was in my early 20s, spending time with a mother and her adopted daughter. I asked some blundering question using the words, "real mother." My friend very gently and respectfully said to me, "We don't use the words 'real mother' in this house." Then she gave me some alternative language to use. I cringe now to think that I would have been so insensitive, but I am thankful for the opportunity to learn better ways. This session was part of my ongoing education, and I am going to seek out more of these books to read with a more critical lens. 

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Book #24: Middlemarch

I finally finished Middlemarch. While I found it a little slow going at first, by the end I couldn't put the book down, wanting so much to know what would happen to Mary, Rosamund, and - especially - Dorothea.

I loved the way George Eliot shows us the innermost workings of relationships.  Dorothea is an unforgettable character, and the contrast between her and Rosamund is particularly compelling.  For example, Rosamund sees men as conquests.  As a newlywed, she is thrilled by the idea of ensnaring another man, not because she wants to have an affair with him, but just because she loves having power over men.  Dorothea, on the other hand, has many relationships with men during the course of the novel, and she is able to connect with them on an entirely different level from Rosamund's, as complex people and not as prizes to be won.  Here is Lydgate towards the end of the book reflecting on Dorothea:
"'She seems to have what I never saw in any woman before -- a fountain of friendship towards men -- a man can make a friend of her.'"
And yet there's nothing so crude in the book as making Rosamund evil and Dorothea good; Eliot deals with both characters with great compassion, so that as readers we feel deeply sympathetic to both.

We're permitted to witness several marriages close-up, and to see a variety of ways of interacting, not just in the main characters, but in others, too: the Bulstrodes, the elder Garths.  Each character is finely drawn; there's not a stereotype in the bunch.  We see how these people deal with courtship, marriage, friendship, work, debt, change in society, illness, religion, and whatever else can fit into 850 pages (hint: it's a lot).

I now have a new answer for that parlor game that asks which people, living or dead, you'd like to have dinner with.  George Eliot must have been a fascinating person.  I read a little bit about her life, and the way she flouted the expectations of society at every turn.  I think there must be a little of Eliot in Dorothea; although Dorothea lives a very moral life, with no scandalous behavior like that of Eliot, she has such a wonderful, refreshing lack of concern about what people think of her.   I am sure Eliot must have been the same.  I would love to discuss this book with its creator.

Meanwhile, I found this fun Australian TV book club discussion about the book.

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Walter Brueggemann Podcast

I listened earlier this week to this lovely interview with Walter Brueggemann. Some excerpts:

Ms. Tippett: . . . I ask you to be a teacher, who were the prophets? What were they about and what's particular about that piece of the Bible?

Mr. Brueggemann: Well, I think they were — the two things that are important, it seems to me, on the one hand, they were rooted in the covenantal traditions of whatever it was from Moses and Sinai and all of that. The other thing is that they are completely uncredentialed and without pedigree, so they just rise up in the landscape. The way I put it now is that they imagined their contemporary world differently according to that old tradition. So it's tradition and imagination. There's no way to explain that, so we explain it by the work of the spirit, but I don't think you have to say that. I just think they are moved the way every good poet is moved to have to describe the world differently according to the gifts of their insight. And, of course, in their own time and every time since, the people that control the power structure do not know what to make of them, so they characteristically try to silence them. What power people always discover is that you cannot finally silence poets. They just keep coming at you in threatening and transformative ways.
         * * *
Mr. Brueggemann: The other text I'll read is Isaiah 43. It's a very much-used passage. "Do not remember the former things nor consider the things of old. I am about to do a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?" And apparently, what he's telling his people is just forget about the Exodus, forget about all the ancient miracles, and pay attention to the new miracles of rebirth and new creation that God is enacting before your very eyes. I often wonder when I read that, what was it like the day the poet got those words and what did it feel like and how did he share that? Of course, we don't know any of that, so it just keeps ringing in our ears.

Ms. Tippett: You and I were together this morning at a gathering of preachers. I think that both of those themes that you named, you know, what feels like chaos. But then the hope that — and I think even an insistence that this must somehow give rise to new forms. The fact that we don't know how the world is going to be structured differently — you know, what will survive that we recognize — makes it still stressful even if it's hopeful.

Mr. Brueggemann: That's right. But the amazing contemporaneity of this material is that the issues are the same, that the world we have trusted in is vanishing before our eyes and the world that is coming at us feels like a threat to us and we can't quite see the shape of it. I think that is kind of where the church and the preachers of the church have to live, and people don't much want to hear either one of those words, that the world is vanishing or that a new world is coming to us, which is why this kind of poetry always leaves us uneasy, I think.

Ms. Tippett: But I think that you also think that that unease is a holy thing, or can be a holy thing, that, in fact, the Bible calls the faithful not to be too settled and too comfortable.

Mr. Brueggemann: I think that's exactly right.
         * * * 
Ms. Tippett: A word you've used a lot recently, maybe you always used it, I think it echoes in what you wrote, but it's "disruptive."

Mr. Brueggemann: Well, that's more recent in my very limited vocabulary.

Ms. Tippett: Well, tell me about that evolution. Tell me about that word. Again, I don't think that's a word we associate in American culture with religion or the Bible or churches.

Mr. Brueggemann: Yeah, well, I think we think in terms of systems and continuities and predictability and schemes and plans. I think the Bible is to some great extent focused on God's capacity to break those schemes open and to violate those formulae. When they are positive disruptions, the Bible calls them miracles. We tend not to use that word when they are negative, but what it means is that the reality of our life and the reality of God are not contained in most of our explanatory schemes. And whether one wants to explain that in terms of God or not, it is nonetheless the truth of our life that our lives are arenas for all kinds of disruptions because it doesn't work out the way we planned. I think our recent economic collapse is a huge disruption for many people who had their retirement mapped out or whatever like that, and it isn't going to be like that. What the Bible pretty consistently does is to refer all of those disruptions to the hidden power of God.
         * * * 
Ms. Tippett: I'd love to talk about your image of God, and I want you to talk about that more personally. But I thought I might start, you know, for example, in one of your sermons, you are talking about some poetry, Isaiah, and you talk about that it offers five images for God. This is just one — (laughter) one passage in Isaiah: "A demolition squad, a safe place for poor people who have no other safe place, the giver of the biggest dinner party you ever heard of, the powerful sea monster he will swallow up death forever, a gentle nursemaid who will wipe away every tear from all faces." How are normal people, not biblical scholars, how are they to make sense of a text like that? Of a God — who God is?

Mr. Brueggemann: Well, they're going to make sense of it if they have good preachers and teachers to help them pause long enough to take in the imagery. But you see, what the church does with its creeds and its doctrinal tradition, it flattens out all the images and metaphors to make it fit into a nice little formulation and then it's deathly. So we have to communicate to people, if you want a God that is healthier than that, you're going to have to take time to sit with these images and relish them and let them become a part of your prayer life and your vocabulary and your conceptual frame. Otherwise, you're just going to be left with these dead formulation, which, again, is why the poetry is so important because the poetry just keeps opening and opening and opening so more metaphors gives more access to God and one can work one metaphor awhile, but you can't treat that as though that's the last word. You got to move and have another and another. That's what I think. It's just amazing. In Isaiah, Jeremiah, Josiah, there are just endless metaphors.
         * * *
You can listen to the whole conversation here.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

IRA Conference Highlights Post #6: Middle School Projects

If you've been reading these highlights posts, you'll know that I tend to gravitate towards the sessions where novelists are talking about what they write. But I did also attend some teaching sessions, and this one was really excellent. It was presented by middle school teacher Alexandria Gibb-Lucas, and it detailed how she uses projects with her reading students.

Her students do four projects a year, innovative projects which they create themselves. She calls these 4 Cs projects, standing for Content, Creativity, Collaboration, and Communication. What was so good about this presentation was that Gibb-Lucas has clearly done this many times with actual students, and she has thought of everything: the benefits, the problems, the whines you will hear from your students and how to respond to them. She was dynamic, encouraging, and realistic.

You can find her handouts and her Power Point at the IRA website, here.

Friday, June 14, 2013

Poetry Friday: Turtles

This will be a turtle-y post in honor of our new turtle, Bruno.  Actually his/her (?) name with the previous owners was Smyrtle, and I did argue with my children about the advisability of changing the name, so my son retained Smyrtle as a middle name.  I'm not sure if Bruno Smyrtle is happy in this new environment, but s/he tolerantly put out his/her head and let me take a photo (you can see my hands and camera reflected in the water). 

The small Bruno Smyrtle couldn't be more different from the turtle I saw in the news a couple of weeks ago, the one who washed up on Butler Beach, in Florida.

Kay Ryan imagines that it isn't much fun to be a turtle.

Kay Ryan

Who would be a turtle who could help it?
A barely mobile hard roll, a four-oared helmet,
she can ill afford the chances she must take
in rowing toward the grasses that she eats.
Her track is graceless, like dragging
a packing-case places, and almost any slope
defeats her modest hopes.

You can read the rest of this poem here.

Russell Edson has a more fanciful view:

The Adventures of a Turtle
Russell Edson

The turtle carries his house on his back. He is both the house and the person of that house.
But actually, under the shell is a little room where the true turtle, wearing long underwear, sits at a little table. At one end of the room a series of levers sticks out of slots in the floor, like the controls of a steam shovel. It is with these that the turtle controls the legs of his house.

You can read the rest of that one here.

And here's today's Poetry Friday roundup.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

IRA Convention Highlights Post #5: National Ambassadors for Young People's Literature

I always enjoy the author panels, and this one was exceptionally good, because all three of the National Ambassadors for Young People's Literature, the current one and the two emeriti, were in the same room. Here you can see pictures of and information about all three of them. The first one was Jon Sciezka, followed by Katherine Paterson, and the current holder of the title is Walter Dean Myers.  They were great fun to listen to, and obviously enjoyed sharing the stage.  Someone asked what a good collective noun for ambassadors would be, and Sciezka suggested "an embarrassment of ambassadors." 

The NAYPL is appointed by the Librarian of Congress.   John Sciezka was happy to be the first one in 2008-2009 because he got to make up the rules, and also because the job came with a medal, which he made sure to wear everywhere.  Katherine Paterson, on the other hand, confessed that she could never remember to bring her medal.  The stated purpose of the NAYPL is "to raise national awareness of the importance of young people’s literature as it relates to lifelong literacy, education and the development and betterment of the lives of young people."

Each of these authors brought a very different sensibility to the job, as you'd expect given that one wrote The Stinky Cheese Man and Other Fairly Stupid Tales, one wrote Jacob Have I Loved, and one wrote Fallen Angels. It sounds as though Sciezka had the most fun. He did a lot of traveling with David Shannon, and the two of them behaved a lot like middle school boys, albeit very charming and literate ones. They taught kids special arm gestures to greet ambassadors, and at one school the kids made up a fanfare for them. Sciezka's mission was to get kids excited about reading, and his books accomplish that, big-time. His website Guys Read is full of ideas for getting guys, particularly, to read. Reluctant readers, he says, quoting a kid's response to a parent, may just be "picky readers."  Engaging books will make the difference.  He encourages parents to be good role models and let their kids see them reading, and also not to demonize other media. He also suggests letting kids read what interests them and what they enjoy. He has the distinction of being the only NAYPL to be invited on Martha Stewart's show, where she told him that she had a great idea for encouraging reading: "They could close caption all TV shows, and then kids could read TV." Apparently that was the last of her great ideas because neither Paterson nor Myers ever received an invitation.

Katherine Paterson's slogan for her tenure as NAYPL was "Read for your life."  She told a story about being given $13,000 to give away after she won the Hans Christian Andersen medal.  She decided to give it to a friend in Venezuela for use with children after the mudslides there, and the friend used the money to create areas where children had stories read to them.  Later this led to an organization called Leer para Vivir (Read to Live).  She talked about how volunteers read her book  Bridge to Terabithia to children who had just lost everything. At the place in the book where the rains start, the reader stopped, thinking this was too reminiscent of the recent trauma everyone had been through. Paterson described the conversation: "Shall I stop reading?" "Yes." Long pause. "No." Ultimately, reading about someone else helped these children, who cried over the death of a fictional North American character. Anyone who has been reading my blog for a while will know that my mind went immediately to our experience here in Haiti after the earthquake, and the way reading so often helps us cope with life. I thought of the story I told in this post, about a student who was at school after the earthquake, and without permission went into my classroom and took books. She told me after I got home, and apologized, but I completely understood. Sometimes you just need books. Paterson understands this. Unlike Sciezka, who is at home with new media, Paterson is a little scornful of it. "Our democracy's not going to survive on twits and tweeters," she commented. She also talked about the benefits of writing children's books for many years. Now, when she comes out with a new book, the interviewers know her because they read her books when they were children.

Walter Dean Myers, the current NAYPL, uses the slogan "Reading is Not Optional." He foresees a literacy disaster coming, with a growing number of kids who don't read at all and whole neighborhoods where nobody reads. He said that kids who can't read and are trying to compete in the job market are like Myers himself going into the ring with Mike Tyson. His approach to reading is less about transport into other worlds and more about cold, hard reality. "Read or you're going to suffer." Our society shouldn't be silent about this "national disgrace." What is happening now in terms of intervention for kids who don't read isn't working. Myers said he goes to many prisons, and often hears inmates say, "I remember you. You came to my grammar school."  Myers is using his NAYPL platform to draw attention to what he sees as a dire situation.